The Miniaturist comes for a cuppa and a cake

The booktrailer is meeting with the author of The Miniaturist today – Jessie Burton no less. To say that I’m excited is an understatement particularly since the invitation came in a rather unusual way…

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I was sitting, reading, in Booktrail towers when I hear a thud on the carpet just inside the door. Not this is not so unusual since the postman has been known to post bookmail through. But when I went to see what book present I had received, I notice that it is lighter than most and is wrapped in smooth brown paper. Puzzled I look closer and see that there is a brown piece of string tied around it AND A PICTURE OF THE SUN ON IT. I gasp and out of shock almost drop the parcel in both excitement and as if it has suddenly grown very hot.

There is a sentence written around the sun in black letters – EVERY AUTHOR NEEDS TEA AND CAKE. I smile then for I know now what I will find in the parcel. It is still with trembling fingers how ever that I manage to untie the parcel full of expectation. And from the tissue paper inside, I take out several objects – a miniature Jessie Burton, a miniature booktrailer, some miniature cakes and two miniature cups of tea. There is another treasure in the parcel, tucked in a separate piece of paper and wrapped in a bubble wrap of sorts. This must be something more delicate than most I tell myself.

And it is, for when I open it, it is the smallest, most perfect vase of yellow tulips that I ever did see. On the back of the vase are the numbers 25.6.14 at 4pm. And then I know what I must do and for what I must prepare. These objects will be the architect of our very good fortune….

So , I set about recreating the scene that the author for the Miniaturist has set for me – I hope I have served her well….

 

The scene inspired by The Miniaturist lady
The scene inspired by The Miniaturist lady

So, you can imagine my excitement and nervousness when she  arrives! I know I have written quite a few booktrail posts on this book but it has inspired me and captured my imagination in such a way that I could not resist to write about it and spread the word. And now The Miniaturist is here herself. Aaaaah.

Hi Jessie, do  come in..the scene is all set out as you wish…

She smiles and after taking off her coat, sits down and says how lovely it all looks and that I have recreated the scene well. I have the eye of a Miniaturist she says.  I blush and remember my days spent making miniature monks out of plasticine (I have no idea why I used to do this when I was young, they were just easy to make and I had a lot of brown clay hehe) but I won’t tell her that, it would kill the mood.

Hi Jessie, pick a cake , pink or purple…she takes the pink one and I start with the chat….

This must be one of the most magical blurbs on a book that I have ever read. What was it about that dollhouse in the Rijksmuseum that inspired you so much? and about the art of the Miniaturist?

The real dollhouse in the Rijksmuseum which inspired the story..
The real dollhouse in the Rijksmuseum which inspired the story..

It inspired me for several reasons. Firstly, it’s a very beautiful decorative object, that has to be seen to be believed. Secondly, the fact it was an exact replica of a real house filled with pieces from around the world, was so fascinating. To me it was a reflection of the society its owner lived in, and posed interesting questions about her motive behind commissioning it in the first place. The miniatures inside it are works of art!

Miniaturists were real artists. Which object in your house or life would you like a miniature of to treasure?

Good question! Mmm. I’d like a miniature of my cat because then at least I’d be able to control her and know where she actually is half the time…

Jessie's adorable cat! (c) Jessie Burton
Jessie’s adorable cat! (c) Jessie Burton

What kind of research did you do in Amsterdam? What are your connections to the city?

I had no connections before I went on holiday there in 2009. I read social history and recipe books. I studied maps and paintings, and I traced the physical city with my footsteps to get a sense of it. (I love that last bit – she is a real life miniaturist booktrailer!!!)

Petronella Oortman is  a real person so what were you careful to include in her story and what message did you want her to tell?

To be honest, I have altered the real Petronella’s autobiography. I have made her much younger than her husband for reasons of plot. I have also put her and her husband in a more expensive house, also for novelistic needs! I wanted Nella, as I think of her, to be the eyes and ears of the story. She comes to the city as an innocent, but full of spark and spirit that leads her on. She thinks she knows what is what. She doesn’t. That’s helpful as the writer, because you can insert ambiguity. She has to learn a lot of lessons about love and friendship, about betrayal and compromise.

Nella is happy that she is going up in the world thanks to Jessie. Could this Nella? (c) Wikipedia
Nella is happy that she is going up in the world thanks to Jessie. Could this beNella? (c) Wikipedia

Marin is another fascinating character. Was she based on anyone that you researched?

Not at all. She is a figment of my imagination. I did see one quite severe painting of a woman that reminded me of her, but actually Marin is softer in my mind than Nella takes her for.

The Golden Age in Amsterdam is a fascinating period of history. What interesting fact did you learn that you may not have included into the book?

Mmm. I think I crammed all the interesting things in that I could! I’m sure I must have jotted a few strange facts down that slipped through the net. 

Hopefully people will find them for themselves.

Jessie at the very door where Nella lives in Amsterdam! (c) Jessie Burton
Jessie at the very door where Nella lives in Amsterdam! (c) Jessie Burton

I read that an actual version of the house and figures was made before being photographed for the cover? Have you been allowed to keep it?

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This is true! A real Miniaturist made the front cover, which is quite extraordinary. I hope I get to keep it but that would be a long way off. We want as many people as possible to see it first.

I believe your next book is set in Spain this time. Can you tell us anything about it?

Well, it’s still in the impressionistic phase. Spain in 1937, London in 1967. A disgraced painter, a rebellious girl, one act of betrayal echoing on through time. Two women and a young man trying to find a foothold in a turbulent life.

Ooh perfect for another booktrail!

Thank you so much for stopping by today Jessie. What’s that you say? A gift? For me? I open the parcel she hands me slightly nervous that it will be another set of miniatures and wondering what challenge Jessie has set me this time…. but well it was a challenge but a different kind than what I had expected….

Oh! lovely. Not sure what they will make of them when I go to Tesco...
Oh! lovely. Not sure what they will make of them when I go to Tesco…

Reader, I have to wear these out, in public. So when you see me, I will be the wobbly one that cannot walk upright. I’m off to practice now…Here Jessie you take these cup cakes back with you. (I got two extra hehe) Here take them quick, I might drop the, not too steady on my feet.

And with that The Miniaturist lady gives me a hug ( or at least tries but I am suddenly seven foot tall in these things) and she is off

To deliver another parcel no doubt…

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Amsterdam 1686 – The Miniaturist part two

Following on from yesterday’s post, we’re back in Amsterdam with Jessie Burton – and are on our way along the canals past the houses spotted in the Miniaturist novel to enter once again into Nella’s new home and into her life..

A house in Amsterdam which Nella could have walked past every time she went in search of the Miniaturist - (c) Jessie Burton
A house in Amsterdam which Nella could have walked past every time she went in search of the Miniaturist – (c) Jessie Burton

Today we venture further in to the world of The Miniaturist ……..Nella’s husband has just given her a wedding gift that will change her life….

The real dollhouse in the Rijksmuseum which inspired the story..
The real dollhouse in the Rijksmuseum which inspired the story..

The dollhouse

When her husband first gives her a cabinet house, which is an exact replica of their own house, miniaturized and unfurnished, she is at first offended having been given a toy although she is no child. Then she is told to furnish it which she takes as yet another order and of having to obey and do what is expected of her.

However her attempt to fill the house leads her to contacting a Miniaturist who she instructs to make items to furnish the house. The first order is completed but then mysterious parcels start to appear including startling models of its occupants – items which don’t appear to stay the same, changing their appearance as events in Nella’s cloistered existence start to open up..

The Mysterious Miniaturist

The-Miniaturist

This miniaturist seems to be someone with intimate knowledge of Nella’s life and this someone is not only watching her but appears to be able to predict what will happen next.

Who is the Miniaturist?

What does she know?

What is she trying to tell Nella?

Just what kind of secrets are bound up in these parcels?

The Kalverstraat

Just off Kalverstraat - (c)Jessie Burton
Just off Kalverstraat – (c)Jessie Burton

The Kalverstraat – where the sign of the sun is – where Nella goes to employ the services of the Miniaturist . On one of the parcels she receives has something written on it around a picture of the sun – 

The sign of the sun - (c) Jessie Burton
The sign of the sun – (c) Jessie Burton

EVERY WOMAN IS THE ARCHITECT OF HER OWN FORTUNE

At a time where Nella herself concludes that women don’t build anything let alone their own fortunes, this is a hint of things to come…..

The canals

The Herengracht today - image courtesy of Jessie Burton
The Herengracht today – image courtesy of Jessie Burton

Amsterdam at the time of the Golden Age was a frenzied hub of trade and activity in sugar loaves and other commodities. The book comes alive even here with the sights, sounds and smells of the canals and their significance coming alive right off the page – 

Nella turns to the canals as bargemen’s laughter rises up the opposite brickwork. A puny lad has skittled into a woman and her basket of fish, and a half-dead herring slithers down the wide front of the seller’s skirt.

A sugar loaf of the time
A sugar loaf of the time

The sugar trade

There is a lot of historical fact in this novel – the research is impeccable – although it always adds to the story and never detracts from the action or characters. It is a fine way to learn about the Golden Age…

Sugar loaves figure significantly in the story. Sugar at the time was routinely formed into solid cone shapes for shipping. Sugar Loaf mountain in Brazil, named for its shape like a sugar loaf suddenly seems a lot more obvious now.

If you want to not only travel but be transported to the Dutch Golden Age…

If you are intrigued by magic…

If you love a good mystery with as many unexpected twists not unlike the streets around the canals…

If you want to open a door only to find another one…and this one has a mystery behind it…

Nothing is hidden that will not be revealed

Come by tomorrow when we have a cuppa and a cake with none other than Jessie Burton herself! I  will be cleaning the Delft pottery today in preparation. I’ve borrowed a parakeet from the local petshop, have some pufferts in the oven too… we’re all set.

The Miniaturist – Amsterdam 1686

Welcome to the booktrail of The Miniaturist

The-Miniaturist

Welcome to Amsterdam 1686

Dam Square and the City Hall before the fire
Dam Square and the City Hall before the fire

Setting – 

Amsterdam, in 1686, during the period known as the Golden age. A time where the city prospered and was incredibly wealthy because of its trading capabilities, yet was significantly poorer in terms of gender equality and women’s rights.

The story in a nutshell

Nella waits for the biggest adventure of her life. She is about to meet The Miniaturist....
Nella waits for the biggest adventure of her life. She is about to meet The Miniaturist….

In 1686, 18 year old Petronella Oortman comes to live in Amsterdam with her new husband, Johannes Brandt. However theirs was an arranged marriage in order to salvage the finances of the Oortman family. Nella is understandably afraid  – she has barely met Johannes and knows little about his life and family.

She arrives at the door –  a stranger in a new world, a man’s world, alone and uncertain of what lies ahead…

On the step of her new husband’s house, Nella Oortman lifts and drops the dolphin knocker embarrassed by the thud.

Her new home is cold and unwelcoming and her husband is not even there at first since he travels a lot for his work. As she tries to settle in and take in her surroundings, Johannes returns and gives his bride, a wedding gift of  a cabinet, a kind of doll house that closely mirrors  the Brandt home. Nella engages the services of a miniaturist, to make furniture and fittings. What she receives is far more than she expected, as the pieces reflect a bit too closely persons and events in the family’s life, some frighteningly so.

The Old Church,  where the novel opens. Image courtesy of Jessie Burton
The Old Church, where the novel opens. Image courtesy of Jessie Burton

The novel opens in the Old Church – a mysterious woman is secretly observing a funeral  -who is she and who is the funeral for? Two of the many mysteries which entice you to read further…

The funeral is supposed to be a quiet affair, for the deceased had no friends. But words are water in Amsterdam, they flood your ears and set the rot and the church’s east corner is crowded.

As we are left wondering who these people are and why they are here, we are taken over to the Herengracht canal where a certain young girl is making her way to her new home, having only met her husband at her wedding, months earlier….

Nella’s new home – 

The Herengracht today - image courtesy of Jessie Burton
The Herengracht today – image courtesy of Jessie Burton

This part of the Herengracht is known as the Golden Bend, but today the wide stretch is brown and workaday. Looming above the sludge-coloured canal, the houses are a phenomenon. Admiring their own symmetry on the water, they are stately an beautiful, jewels set within the city’s pride. Above their rooftops, Nature is doing her best to keep up, and clouds in colours of saffron and apricot echo the glorious republic.

Nella walks into the house, nervous and alone. Her one true friend is her parakeet Peebo – 

Peebo!! Image courtesy of Jessie Burton
Peebo!! Image courtesy of Jessie Burton

Peebo her parakeet, thrills the tips of his feathers against the cage bars, his faint cheep falling short onto the marble. Even the now-quiet canal behind them seems to hold its breath.

Nella is a fascinating character – a woman who struggles to adapt to the social mores and expectations as the lady of the house. Her new husband Johannes twenty years older, while seemingly very kind, is emotionally and physically distant. She is thrown together with her husband’s cold sister Marin, Johanne’s help Otto and her maid Cornelia. Otto is the first black man she has ever seen and she sees the ugliness of the city raise its head by how he is generally treated.

Nella feels as trapped as Peebo is in a cage of her own – a gilded cage at that since she is given wealth and a new status in society but one very much controlled by her role in life and the men around her. Women of the time had little, if any, independence and were dictated to by men leaving them with no power of their own.

Marriage, paradoxically, was seen by some as the only way for women to secure any influence over their own lives. But this marriage is to give Nella more challenges that it gives her influence.

For Nella receives a gift and meets a miniaturist who can seemingly predict (or is it influence?) her life and that of those around her.

Nella waits for the biggest adventure of her life. She is about to meet The Miniaturist....
Nella waits for the biggest adventure of her life. She is about to meet The Miniaturist….

Join us tomorrow as Nella enters the world of the Miniaturist….

The Miniaturist and its evocative book cover

Following on from yesterday’s excited post about the upcoming novel The Miniaturist, we wanted to share something else with you about this amazing book. The cover itself.. perhaps one of the most amazing, detailed and imaginative we have ever seen here at The Booktrail…..

The house on the cover was built from scratch by the most remarkable artist! It’s the kind of cover where, just as like when looking at a real dollhouse, you have to look and look as you can’t take  your eyes off it. Every time you look you see something else – just as every time you read the book, you discover something else. magical on every layer……

The detail of the cover show the detail that was exhibited in the real dollhouse in the Rijksmuseum – the very same houses that wealthy women of the Golden Age would furnish as a sign of their status in society. Rather how we buy cars and houses today – you see some things just don’t change.

The amazing designer Katie Tooke – just look at what she’s achieved! – designed the cover for the novel

the-miniaturist-978144725089001

The setting is captured so perfectly in the artwork –

The large grand houses of the time

The paintings on the wall

The ornate moldings of the decoration

The dress of the day


Both the novel and the cover are incredibly evocative and we could see the fire on the cover as we did in the novel, its orange glow on the checkered tiles.We see Marin and Johannes upstairs with Rezeki the dog.  Nella stands downstairs alone having just moved to Amsterdam and entered this house to be with her new husband who she has only met at their wedding.

Nella waits for the biggest adventure of her life. She is about to meet The Miniaturist....
Nella waits for the biggest adventure of her life. She is about to meet The Miniaturist….

Standing alone with her parakeet Peebo, she is poised for adventure….

As we are..

July 3rd 

The Miniaturist is published in the UK

The Miniaturist – Amsterdam 1686 – There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed…

Forget World Cup excitement, for anyone in the bookworld right now, the anticipation for something quite different is reaching fever pitch.

If you have never been to Amsterdam, if you know nothing of the city’s wealthy area known as the  Golden Bend and the Herengracht canal, then you will soon be transported there….

The Herengracht today - image courtesy of Jessie Burton
The Herengracht today – image courtesy of Jessie Burton

And even if you know Amsterdam well, you will not have experienced 17th century Amsterdam at the time of the Golden Age and the birth of the Dutch East India Company, the bustling canals, the trade in sugar and other commodities and the secret goings on behind a door in Kalverstraat – 

The Kalverstraat is a long busy street away from the canal, where many sellers ply their trade. They no longer sell calves and cows there  but the manure from horses lends it a meaty, pungent atmosphere amidst the print and dye shops, the haberdashers and apothecaries.

The sign of the Sun - Image courtesy of Jessie Burton
The sign of the Sun – Image courtesy of Jessie Burton

But Nella has already spotted the sign of the sun. A small stone sun has been engraved in a plaque and embedded into the brickwork. Painted freshly gold it is a heavenly body come to earth, bright stone rays shooting out around its glowing orb. It’s too high up the wall and Nella wishes she could touch it.

Beneath the sun, a motto has been engraved: Everything Man sees He Takes for a Toy.

The detail on the book cover is as exquisite as the mini creations the artist herself makes

For this place on the Kalverstraat is the home of the Miniaturist…..

The Miniaturist is the most exciting premise we at the book trail have come across in fiction for a long time. It focuses on an object of beauty,  a miniature dolls house that is currently on display in the Rijksmuseum.  It was the miniature home of the ‘real’ Petronella Oortman  twice-widowed who lived with her silk merchant husband Johannes on the Warmoestraat and not the Heren canal as in the book. However where fact meets fiction is the desire to build  and own a doll house that became known as a wonder of the world….

The real miniature house on display at the Rijksmuseum
The real miniature house on display at the Rijksmuseum

Such houses were coveted by wealthy families during the Golden Age since they symbolised wealth and status. But the house in the Miniaturist is one gifted to a young fictionalised Nella who, in 1686, arrives in Amsterdam from the country to marry a wealthy merchant. He then gifts her a miniature version of their home which she then sets about furnishing it with exclusive and beautifully crafted items she receives from a Miniaturist.

On the parcel are written the words – 

Every woman is the architect of her own fortune

Nella is puzzled not only at this but at what is inside. She soon realises that she has received a lot more than she bargained for. The Miniaturist has sent additional items, items not requested or discussed…

And they appear to be mirroring the life of their real life counterparts in the most unexpected of ways….

(c) the booktrial
Photo on location (c) the booktrail

This is where the magic happens

This is where the future of its inhabitants will be played out in miniature form.

There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed

July 3rd from Picador

More to be revealed soon….